After taking a look at the offensive side of the ball, we will now move to the indispensable players on defense.
Some serious strides were made in a few areas last year, but there is still a lot of work to do for Jeremy Pruitt and his staff.
Let’s dive in.
3. ILB Daniel Biltuli
This may come as somewhat of a surprise considering the fact that Bituli arguably regressed in 2018, but regardless, he will be an important piece of the puzzle for Pruitt’s defense.
He did show plenty of flashes last season and this year has a chance to be the one where it all comes together. But more importantly, Bituli needs to stay on the field for this to happen.
Another reason is Tennessee’s lack of experience behind him. Will Ignot will likely start alongside him on the inside, but we have no clue what J.J. Peterson can do and you don’t want to rely on a bunch of freshman in a new defense.
Bituli also stands a chance at gaining a leadership role considering his senior status on the team. This can pay major dividends for the growth of a young team, so you can’t leave that out of the equation, either.
2. OLB Darrell Taylor
Taylor led the Vols with eight sacks in 2018 and is the only player outside of Derrick Barnett to record eight or more sacks in the past four seasons.
Even though those numbers came in two games, Taylor may just be the Vols’ best pass rusher. He will be the first player that offenses game plan against until the other players come into their own.
He can be a load to handle off the edge and his length can be an issue for offensive lineman. Another year in this defense should take his play to next level.
As long as he can continue his play from last year and more importantly, stay on the field, then the Vols’ pass rush will be in good shape.
1. CBs Bryce Thompson/Alontae Taylor
I know, I’m cheating here, but if one of these players goes down, it effects the other in some type of way, so we’re gonna roll with this okay?
I have to admit, I was very skeptical when Pruitt decided to move Taylor to corner last year. Sure enough, it turned out to be a great move as he became one of the best freshman cornerbacks in the entire country.
You can say the same for Thompson, minus the position change. He was actually graded as the best freshman corner in the country, according to PFF.
The sky is the limit for these two and if either one of them were to miss time, then the potential for a defensive setback increases exponentially.
Tennessee has plenty of defensive backs, but none of them set the tone like these two. Another year in Pruitt’s system will obviously aid in their development, which will render the defense in its entirety as a benefactor of their growth.
The trickle down effect would be akin to a landslide to an extent. Think about it. The Vols don’t really have a pass rush. What helps a pass rush more than anything?
Ding ding. Good coverage in the defensive backfield.
Without these two guys, the pass rush would have to step up even more and that is a questionable theory considering there wasn’t really much of one last year and many of the guys who were responsible for Tennessee’s sacks are gone.
I have all the faith in the world that Pruitt will have the backups prepared and ready to play, but I’d still rather not roll the dice on that one.